“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” George Orwell

Monday, February 02, 2009


As I have discussed elsewhere in this blog, I try to spend an hour or so, once a week at a local group home for adults with intellectual disabilities. It is a good home. I sit there with the 5 folks who live there, over a coke and an ice cream cone. At other times, I involve them in church activities, or occasionally take some of them to lecture in my classes. It is amazing how these people have changed the lives of new teachers. Anyway, a while back, I completed the fingerprinting at the local police station, and turned it in to the home operators. Somehow, it was not what was needed. I can only assume that the police department doesn't know to do fingerprinting or something (of course I am not serious) but it was insufficient for those who monitor the group home. So I went again today and was fingerprinted again. Just FYI, it was $77 today and I think it was over $60 the last time I had it done.

As I was chatting with the nice gal who was taking my prints, I told her that I was a volunteer at a group home for adults. She considered the categories on her form for the purposes of charging me.
"There is not a space on the Department of Justice forms for people who want to volunteer with adults in a group home or a senior citizen center for that matter" she said. "If you were working with children, there is a price for volunteers" (I think it was 35$) "but not for adults. Are you going to be employed by the group home?"
I had actually offered to the group home the idea of paying me $1 a month or something, so I wouldn't and they wouldn't have to go through the continuing hassle of dealing with those in social services who were harassing them. But I cannot tell you how angry it would make me that I have to be paid in order to be a person who interacts with adults with intellectual disabilities as a friend. Clearly $1 a month would not change my motivation in wanting to just visit friends, and provide them various opportunities to enrich their lives, but it really bugs me that it would make me just one more person on salary in their lives. The regulations built to "protect" them are actually killing them socially. Who would want to go through the hassle of getting fingerprinted numerous times just to befriend a person with a disability? I mean it is not like people are lining up to befriend group home residents, people who are truly worthy of friendship, but I guess that is how social services in America likes it. "Leave it to the professionals!"

Well we left it to the professionals, and the result was overcrowded, brutal institutions populated by innocents living wasted lives...but it was sure convenient for all involved. To once again quote Burton Blatt,
To live with our retarded children, our handicapped friends, our aging parents does place burdens on all of us, but what we must learn from the nightmare of institutionalization is that these burdens cannot be avoided or delegated, for to have a decent society we must first behave as decent individuals. Ultimately our society will discover that it is easier to meet the responsibilities to our fellow man than it is to avoid them. (A return to purgatory, From In and out of mental retardation, 1981, p. 268)

Unfortunately human services, instead of lessening the burden contributes to it. I can understand why someone with a heart to help would throw up their hands and say "I give up!" We in human services really don't want you to interfere in our plans (be they IEP's or whatever) because you will make things difficult for us, and we would prefer to avoid our responsibilities, particularly when they are messy. It is all about therapeutic power that makes decisions on the basis of administrative convenience.



Pilgrim said...

I wish there were more like you. Too bad Obama doesn't set an example, and take up someone with cognitive impairment as a friend. He could make it trendy. Other than that, we have Robert Benigni.

Anonymous said...

Well, this makes it easier to understand the difficulties we face contacting group home communities in our area, as we invite them to come to our church. No response. The protection the humsan services systems put in place for people in assisted living facilities only serve to isolate them from the world at large. The concerns of the protectors are real-- there are alot of creeps out there--so I don't object to being printed.

Maybe we can find another entrance,. Suppose we marketed ourselves as independent contractors in the field of interpersonal relationship development (friends, and offered our services to the group home communities pro bono? I can give away my love can't I?

It is tragic that what could be so simple is made so difficult.

Jeff McNair said...

What an interesting idea...still paid to be friends. Got some other ideas in mind.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Julana. We definetly have to go through cycles just to help these folks out.

Anonymous said...

I share your frustration with the fingerprinting process. I have been fingerprinted more times than I can count. I understand that it is intended to protect, but I think it has gone a little overboard. I still don't understand why there are all of the different ORI numbers and different rates for employees and volunteers. There are also different rates for volunteering with more than 6 or less than six people. The same procedure is used, taking the same amount of time, using the same information. It's time an effort is made to collaborate! Your extra efforts have made a difference though. Having met and interacted with the disabled adults you have befriended was a truly amazing experience. THANK YOU!!

Anonymous said...

This post reminds me of the movie Amazing Grace ...which is about William Wilberforce. In this movie he struggles with the dual passions of becoming a social justice activist against the slave traders and entering the vocational ministry. He finally gets confronted by some anti-slave trade activists about how he can do both simultaneously.

I see social workers, human services, QMRP's, Residential/Vocational Managers, and Direct Care Staff as being in a key role in the lives of those with developmental disabilities. If only all of these professionals did it as a service to humanity for free... rather than as a job to simply get a paycheck. Many of the larger ministries started this way (St. Coletta, Bethesda Lutheran Homes, etc.). There were missionaries that lived, worked, and served WITH the individuals because it was a ministry... not because it was a way to get more government funding. Perhaps this economic recession has more to teach us than we are willing to admit about the motives for our service... as care providers, professionals, but most of all, as friends.